We know these are incredibly challenging times for everyone, but can be especially difficult for children and teens. We hope that as we slowly resume opportunities for social interaction, that life starts to feel more secure for our younger generation. However, as school work wraps up and summer begins without a lot of the summer camp and activity structure that kids crave, we wanted to highlight some strategies to consider:
- The most important thing parents and caregivers can do for children is maintain a routine for the day. Creating a schedule gives children the security they require and teens the purpose that they need. What might this include?
- Waking up at a reasonable time every day (even for teens). Right now, there is not a lot of difference between weekdays and weekends, and it is much better for human sleep rhythms to have a predictable wake and sleep time. Simple routines like getting up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, making beds, and eating breakfast can set the day in a positive motion.
- Create a daily schedule. Every day may not look the same, but having a clear roadmap for kids to follow really can help the moment to moment power struggle as well as minimize the low mood that comes from having nothing to do.
- Have set snack and meal times. This can form the “backbone” of the daily schedule. It can also be your family rationale as to why we shouldn’t graze on snacks all day long.
- Have 20-30 minutes minimum of reading daily. More is better.
- Create “family time” daily. This is especially important for parents who are impossibly trying to work at home with kids in the next room. Put a time in the schedule that the kids can look forward to your attention, even if only for short bursts.
- Keep a regular bedtime and bedtime routine. It is all too tempting to fall into late bedtimes with more family movie nights and such. However, lack of adequate hours of sleep does accumulate and can make daytime mood and behavior that much more challenging.
- Kids need to MOVE, and they need to move a lot. If you think about a normal school or summer camp week, children are in motion all day long. Not only are they missing daycare/school/camp right now, but nearly all sports are on a hiatus. Creating times of movement or exercise multiple times per day is so important for kids to release physical energy. Try to stay creative – family walks are wonderful; maybe 1-2 times per week you can add a scavenger hunt or something similar to keep it interesting.
- Screen time is an easy friend, but a quick enemy. The dopamine/addictive potential of computer, ipad, and video games is different for each child/teen. Some seem to be able to handle walking away from a game easily; others can have a major emotional outburst when having to transition away from this play. If your child/teen struggles “turning it off” and reconnecting in the real (not online) world, it is that much more important to have firm limits on time spent in this arena. Of note, passive TV can have the same reactions, though often less so. A potential advantage of TV/movie watching is that it can be a shared social activity for siblings – food for thought.
- Find ways to socially connect. Humans are innately social creatures. There has been no time in history in which an entire society isolates itself the way we have in the last 2 months. For a lot of families, being at home has meant increased time together – which is wonderful. But by older elementary school through high school, the need for peer interaction can be quite strong. Continue to help your child/teen connect with their friends in whatever ways are available to you. But also, keep a close eye on social media – it is not usually a great use of time.
- Finally, try to model resiliency and minimize fear. These are uncertain times, no doubt. Some days, it seems there is no end to the doomsday news cycle. However, our kids need to be kids, and we need to let the adults be the adults. No matter how we might feel as parents as to the current and present risks of the day, our kids need to know that no matter what happens, we can handle it. Try to practice and verbally express optimism and gratitude every day.
Please know that all of us at Children’s Medical Center are here for you – do not hesitate to reach out if you need any additional support.